Words and wars

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Whilst catching up with my backlog of queued podcasts earlier this week, I heard a phrase in reference to the current global war on terrorism that caught my attention.  I don’t remember it exactly but it went along the lines of:

“There are only ever conversations and then wars”

The point being that all we ever have to secure peace is dialogue, discussion or negotiation and once that ends all we have is a reversion to violence on some level.  It’s when talks stall that violence starts, and that’s true whether it’s a local neighbourhood dispute over loud music, or two nations disputing the ownership of land. The magnitudes and implications may be very different, but the processes of negotiation on every level lead ultimately to only one of two outcomes:

negotiate -> compromise or agree -> resolution
negotiate -> fail to reach solution -> violence

It’s rather obvious I guess, but I’d never looked at it in this way, that at a very basic level, all we have in life, to safeguard our desire for peace, safety and happiness, comes down to words and exchange of ideas. Just that. Nothing else.

Whether spoken or written, words give us the ability to set ourselves apart from all other species, to truly become great. Carefully constructed groups of words form ideas and underpin arguments and reason, leading to cures against disease, improvements in technology that lead to improvements in the quality of all of our lives, and the ability to change opinion, to reach consensus, to compromise and reason, ultimately underpinning the very fabric of civilisation as we know it.

And given the importance of words, it is becoming increasingly worrying how social media echo chambers are distorting how we all perceive the world, and therefore how we communicate and interact with the world in our daily lives.

Such echo chambers have always existed, albeit in slightly different forms. Some people always buy The Daily Mail because it satisfies their right wing leanings. Most importantly and most dangerously, it closes the circle by emphasising and endorsing  pre conceived thinking and opinions. If you read The Daily Mail, you read how immigrants are to blame for the economy, lack of housing, demise of the healthcare system and so on, because you read it day after day after day in your newspaper.

Of course this isn’t just a right wing phenomenon. If I care about animal welfare, with a few clicks of a button, all I see all day are stories of cruelty to animals. If I believe the world is run by an elite lizard illuminati I can surround myself in conspiracy stories to back up and endorse my concerns. If I believe man never landed on the moon and it was all a hoax, there are over 137,000 online articles to immerse myself in to ‘uncover the truth’.

And today we don’t just have newspapers to construct our echo chamber, we also have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc, where we get to select and customise our feed content to suit. We determine who makes up our timeline, and so if I am a racist I choose to follow racists who also follow racists, so when I wake on a morning and turn on my smartphone I am bombarded by memes, opinion pieces, photographs and videos that underpin my pre-formed views of the world. Many of us get most, if not all, our information from such places these days. And with fewer and fewer news corporations with increasing levels of power, we are starting to see this also on our TVs and radios.

With very little effort at all, before long, we are all cocooned into our own customised, polarised, filtered views of the world. We experience the same world events but have our own personalised echo chambers to do the interpretation for us, serving it up to us on a 4.8″ super AMOLED HD touchscreen platter.

And if you are President of the United States of America, you follow just 43 people on Twitter, most who either have the word ‘Trump’ in their surname, or who conform to the very same views of your own.  27.7M followers, following the most powerful person on the planet, who in turn follows just 43 people.  This is Trump’s echo chamber. This is the source of his words, the cradle of his ideas. This is where his opinions are formed, where legislation is constructed. This is Trump’s World.

Words and wars – Ne’er a truer word.

Running to stand still …

Today was one of those special days when the sun came out and shone brightly all day long. Supermarkets were selling BBQ food by the skip load, lawnmowers were purring, the birds were singing and everyone appeared to be in a good mood.

And I had to go for a run. I just had to. There was no freewill involved, this was an executive order issued from upon high, and so I strapped on my lime green running shoes and I ran …

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Within seconds of starting my run I felt real joy, which sounds a little stupid and Hollywoodesque, but its the most accurate word I can come up with. It was like I was in sync with the world (there I go again). I felt the cool breeze on my skin (stop it), marvelled at the blue sky and cotton white clouds (no really, stop it), smelled the flowers in the fields (oh ffs), heard the birds in the trees (tra-la-la) and felt like an integral part of this sunny day, like I was somehow a piece of the jigsaw, instead of the jigsaw builder (better).

And that’s what running does to me, it’s what running does for me. It makes me feel whole. Running for me is an inclusive experience because it connects the dots and joins up the pieces. Running is the thread that binds me to the world, and for a few moments I stop being the passenger who watches the world go by, instead I become part of the world’s fabric.

I often consider myself a spectator. In a meeting room full of business people, I’m continually scanning the room, trying to work out or second guess people’s back stories, trying to see what lies behind their corporate facade. I’m the same at a party, on the outside looking in, searching for clues, gauging the atmosphere, trying to read between the lines. I float around the edges of conversations, a few feet above my own right shoulder, looking down on and witnessing events, but never really being part of them.

A consequence of such behaviour is a feeling of disengagement. I berate myself for not participating more in meetings, or for not chatting more at parties where everyone else appears so much more involved. Instead my mind appears distracted, in absentia, rarely in the ‘now’, usually to be found trying to guess the future or poring over the past.

Except when I’m running.  When I run I flow within the world (don’t go there). There is no third person at these times and no shoulder to sit on. The world is running with me and I’m running with the world. The world is running within me, not without me (another U2 lyric?).

Running won’t make me rich or make me a better person, but it does give me a sense of connectedness and purpose. Running opens up a brief window into a place where I suspect many luckier people already inhabit – people in meetings, people at parties, many of my friends and family, I suspect they’re all there already.

I wonder if a life can ever be lived wholly in flow.

In the meantime I look out of the window, somewhat disengaged, looking forward to my next run.

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This post was written on Sunday 9th April, hottest day of the year so far …

Nothing to blog about …

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Not me, I have more hair

I let my blog run dry. I tried often, but I couldn’t find anything to blog about that didn’t sound contrite or repetitive. I just kept staring at the blank page, stood up from my desk and walked away. And then I did that again and again, several times over.

I probably played a game on my iPhone, or I read Twitter. Or Facebook. Whatever it was, it was almost certainly time-stealing, counter productive and procrastinating in nature. To be fair, in fleetingly brief periods of positivity, maybe I also considered going for a run, but then remembered my sore back and tight hamstrings and thought better of it.

Arriving at the conclusion that I couldn’t run on account of my ‘tighter-than-a-tourniquet’ hamstrings probably made me feel even more fed up, compounding the already fed up feeling of Blogger’s Block that kicked off this maudlin’ malaise in the first place.

Things then got worse.  I scratched an itch on my head and I felt dry skin. I burned my head skiing. That’s not a sentence you see very often.  I have hair, I definitely have hair. If someone were to describe me they might say … ‘Andy is average height, has a big fat blotchy red round moon face, a beer belly and grey hair‘. ‘Hair‘ would definitely be in there.  Admittedly it’s thinning a little, but still, I undoubtedly have hair, and that’s definitely noticeable when you see me, and yet I didn’t see one other single person with a burned scalp on that skiing trip.  Not one. Even bald men had unburned scalps, I kid you not.

Which begs the question, why did my scalp burn? It can’t have just been strong sun, or there would have been other casualties. Ergo, I must have a scalp problem. It’s probably sensitive. In fact if you were to say anything vaguely hurtful to my scalp, it would probably cry, storm-off to its bedroom, sulk, not come down for tea and withdraw from society for days, only to emerge wearing all black clothing and a sullen smile. It wouldn’t have a pale complexion though, it would have a bright red one.

So I can’t blog any more, I can’t run on account of my bad back and ‘steel-guitar-stringed’ hamstrings, and I can’t go out in daylight in case my scalp catches fire.

I have something else to confess. On my last day of skiing, in fact on my last downhill run, I tried to break my speed record, as recorded on my skiing app. My current top speed was 68.7km/h, and due to having a bit of an OCD thing especially around numbers, I decided I needed to break 70km/h. And I tried, but at around 69.993km/h I lost control, my left ski flew off to the left towards a group of young French people and I somersaulted a couple of times, banging my head in the process.

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Not me, but you get the idea … #wearahelmet

If you’re reading my blog for the first time you might be mistaken for thinking I’m aged 17, but I’m in fact 52 and I really should know better. 70km/h isn’t even very impressive. I’m an awful skier and 60km/h is probably 10km/h beyond my best capabilities, so why I thought trying to achieve 70km/h on my last run on my last day, without a helmet, is so pathetically idiotic to beggar any semblance of vague belief.

Anyway, I did that, and I returned home with a few injuries but kept them to myself as it was all a little embarrassing. Nevertheless, when I awoke the next morning and couldn’t lift my neck off my pillow, and then felt very dizzy when I eventually did, I decided to see my GP.

I was diagnosed with whiplash. Thankfully no obvious or sinister signs of head trauma (scalp aside), but just as I was leaving, the GP asked if she could take my blood pressure. I obliged. It was high. She was concerned. She tested it again. Same.

So, I have blogging constipation, a fused series of vertebrae, tighter-than-a-snare-drum hamstrings, ultraviolet-shy scalp and arterial-busting blood pressure.

I think I’ve put weight on too.

 

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

In July 2004, London was sitting in 4th place out of the 5 contenders to host the 2012 Olympic games, but just a year later, on 6th July, 2005, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2012 Olympics to London.  I know exactly where I was at that moment. My eldest son was off school sick, he was tucked up in bed watching TV and I was in the room when a live news bulletin interrupted our viewing to announce the 2012 Olympics decision …

The London 2012 bid team had played an absolute blinder, and set in motion a series of events lasting more than seven years, culminating in one of the greatest Olympics ever held. It didn’t end with the campaigning, it was also in the planning, the preparation and the execution. Historically, olympic projects have always been beset with financial problems and delays, but somehow London 2012 was delivered on time (if not quite to budget), regenerating a part of London long forgotten to many, even those that lived in the UK and even those of us that worked in London.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the Team GB athletes delivered the greatest athletic performance the country has ever seen.  For GB (~60 million population) to finish third in the medal table behind USA (>300 million) and China (>1.3 billion) was just staggering. It was as if the momentum of the successful bid and the enthusiasm the nation wore like an overcoat, somehow fuelled the athletes to also overachieve.

We had government funding and we had a willing public, not just the fans that filled every nook and cranny at every event, but also the army of volunteers who helped, supported and advised, from Heathrow in the west, all the way across town to Salford in the east.

Being British, national pride has often been tinged with guilt for me, as it often brings out an ugliness that seems to have its roots in our imperialistic past when Britannia was arrogant enough to believe she truly ruled the waves. The Union Jack has long been associated with extremism and thuggery, yet somehow at London 2012, the flag was reclaimed as simply the colours of a very proud nation.

London 2012 was a great example of humanity at its best and Britons at their finest. It wasn’t just about the medals, it was also about collaboration, about community, about belief and passion, about friendships, and most importantly about pride.

Fast forward four and a half years to 2016, the same people, but now divided, tangled up in a messy divorce from the EU. Much of that national pride has turned to anger and discord, and politics once again feels dirty and corrupt, no longer a lottery funded cause for the greater good. And unlike 2012, where we opened our borders and outstretched our arms to the world, post-Brexit, we seem to be once again pulling up the drawbridges and closing our doors, not just to outsiders, but to our neighbours too.

We seem to consume our daily news these days through gritted teeth and half closed eyes, wondering what on earth will happen next. We have a government which appears incompetent and ill prepared for Brexit and the challenges that lay ahead. Brexit seems to have beaten us down and created a disharmony that feels a world away from London 2012, and our 2012 passion seems lost in a difficult and uncertain 2016.

But it needn’t be this way.  National pride can, and should, be a force for good, free from any strain of politics, government or economic circumstance. And pride should never be about superiority. French people should be just as proud to be French, Americans to be American, Germans to be German, as I am to be British. London 2012 just reminded us British that we have a lot to be proud of, in the same way other nations should rightly be proud of their own achievements – achievements that should be openly shared and celebrated across a unified world, not envied in a divisive one.

Whatever happens in the coming months, post-Brexit, I’d like to think we in the UK can all regain our own sense of national pride, in whatever way seems fitting for us. Pride can be misplaced and misinterpreted, but it can also be a good thing when kept in context.

The following video encapsulates perfectly what pride meant around London 2012. It’s as funny and quirky as it is beautiful, and it’s joyously optimistic too. It portrays a better time perhaps, but one that can be reclaimed, even in today’s turbulent times.

And we don’t need our governments to do that for us, we can start doing that for ourselves, in whatever way feels right for us.

What have you done to make yourself proud today?

 

 

 

Consolidating Twitter

In an attempt to simplify matters, I’m consolidating my two twitter accounts into one.

@airtyke was personal
@andy_ramsden was professional

My personal wasn’t very funny, or interesting, and my professional wasn’t very professional, or interesting. Lacking insight, wit, intelligence and inspiration across two twitter accounts is doubly demoralising, and so from now on I will only fail to inspire from one of them.

Also, as I get older, I have noticed that my personal life becomes less interesting and less controversial. I no longer tweet drunkenly from the basement of a nightclub at 4am. Sadly, I never did anything remotely like that, which is partly why I am closing down my @airtyke account – the not so funny, my oh-so personal, wannabe aspirational, hilarious, personal twitter account.

From now on @andy_ramsden is where it’s at, twitterly speaking. A rich panoply of thoughts, ideas and, yes, occasionally opinions, that span an eclectic range of interests including virtually anything and everything this blog does, but in less than 140 words, yay!

Kevin, the cockroach

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It was late evening on Sunday when I checked into my hotel in Orlando. I was tired after a long flight from San Francisco, but wanted to check email quickly. I sat down at my desk, fired up my laptop and opened up Outlook.  Whilst I sat there, waiting for my messages to sync, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, a brief, skittish flicker of something off to my right. I couldn’t see anything at first, and I had just refocused on my email when something distracted me again, and this time I saw a cockroach running along the desk.

I yelped, or squealed, possibly both. It was definitely girly. I am very scared of cockroaches. I don’t hate them, in fact I kind of respect them for being such hardy creatures, but I do have a very deep-seated fear of them. These primeval neanderthals could survive a nuclear attack, I remind myself whenever the word cockroach is mentioned.

I felt physically sick as I jumped back from my chair and desk as the roach tried to squeeze itself between the crack of my desk and the adjacent wall, but before it could disappear I placed a glass on top of it, base first, squishing it. Oh good God what had I done!? What was I going to do now? I daren’t lift the glass in case it scurried away, or even worse became angry at my impudence and attacked me. It might scurry off, get its mates and come after me, mob handed, the sneaky little bullying neanderthal shitbastard.

My heart was racing. It was at least in stasis beneath the glass, I reassured myself, it looked crushed, but then one can never be sure and so I left it there and retired to bed, somewhat fearful the wider cockroach family may come out search party style, looking for missing persons.

Monday
I awoke after a fitful sleep and immediately but warily checked the glass. It was still there and surely dead by now but I still couldn’t bring myself to lift the glass in case it moved, and so I left it and left for work. I convinced myself the maid would surely be roach proficient and would sort the problem without even batting her Floridian eyelid.

On my return that evening, the room had been tidied and the glasses had all been returned to the bathroom, no roach in sight, presumed cleared away.  But no sooner had that thought crossed my mind when I saw the very same roach skittering across my desk and disappearing once again down the same crack it had tried to disappear down the previous night.

The maid must have simply lifted the glass, and despite > 12hrs of overnight glass asphyxiation, this prehistoric monster had simply crawled nonchalantly away and carried on living its life in room 3209.  I felt sick again but was calmer than yesterday. I was angry at the maid, she must have seen it under the glass surely? Had she let it go on purpose? Why would she do that? I made a mental note not to leave a tip.

Tuesday
I saw nothing upon awakening and left for my meetings. I returned early evening and had a quick turnaround before heading back out for dinner, but as I switched on the light there he was, for I was sure he was a he, he had that arrogant swagger only males possess. He saw me, waved his antenna in a fuck-you kinda way and headed for the crack, the very same crack, and disappeared once again out of sight.  I was astonished, this felt like a game, one in which I was losing. I felt less scared than previously yet more annoyed that this little critter was toying with me. I returned late that night and as sure as eggs is eggs there Kevin was. I was a little tipsy and feeling brave so I ran towards him, certain I could block his path and head him off at the pass. My efforts proved futile and he once again disappeared down the blessed crack, no doubt laughing as he went.

Wednesday
I didn’t see Kevin Wednesday morning but we met briefly Wednesday evening as I returned and switched on the light. Same routine, there he was, waving his antenna antagonistically at me before nonchalantly (and that irked me a little), almost sauntering his way to the crack as if to goad me to try and stop him. I wasn’t going to be drawn into his childish games so I averted my eyes and ignored him. I think that showed him.

Thursday
Checkout day. As I packed I looked out for Kevin but he was nowhere to be seen. It was daylight, he was probably sleeping. I missed him. I wanted to say goodbye, metaphorically shake his hand out of respect if nothing else. Kevin was a character, we’d played a game and he’d won.

I never did see him again, but I did leave with a new found respect for cockroaches.

And in the end I decided to leave the maid a few dollars tip after all, with a note attached:

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A 7-day Intermittent Fasting experiment

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I’ve been interested in Fasting ever since I saw the Michael Moseley Horizon programme in 2012, not just for weight loss reasons, but rather the claimed health benefits – lowering the risk of developing diabetes, dementia and cancer.

Fasting purportedly diverts energy and resources away from food digestion, focussing instead on doing useful housekeeping things like cell repair, reducing insulin levels and generally ridding the body of toxins and other debris. It also re-teaches the body the lost art of deriving energy from fat, as opposed to from the carbs in our belly – a process called Ketosis. Most of us carry enough fat to survive several weeks without food, which is why fasting is safe, and why many people have successfully conducted 21 or 28 day fasts without any harm.  It’s also popular in many religions and spiritual practices – Islam (Ramadan), Buddhism, Bahá’í, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism … the list goes on.

Even outside of religion and spirituality, fasting has been a natural part of human existence for as long as we have been around, primarily because food was scarce and so early man had to eat when he/she could, forced to fast in between hunts and catches. We are therefore designed to cope well with fasting, it’s in our genetic make-up, even if it does feel a little alien to the modern psyche which has been raised on the 3 square meals a day regime (3SMAD). The introduction of 3SMAD has its roots traced back to 19th Century America – it was a symbol of civilisation to sit down with friends and family at fixed times to eat, an attempt to differentiate the ‘civilised’ white man from the indigenous natives. It could therefore be argued that fasting is more natural to us than 3SMAD.

Nevertheless, many people will still argue that 3SMAD is best for us and that fasting is sheer madness. People will claim they feel ‘shaky’ if they miss lunch, and cite this as evidence they need to eat, but there is a counter-argument that your body has just become so dependent on deriving instant energy from food carbs that it’s forgotten the lost art of ketosis which fasting allows.

I therefore decided to give it a go for a week. Instead of the traditional 5:2 diet which I followed for a year or so but found rather difficult, I decided to try just eating one meal a day, every day, limiting my calorie intake to a couple of hours each evening. That means eating nothing whatsoever for 22 hours – no sugar or milk in tea, certainly no snacks or fruit, just water, tea and an occasional black coffee. You could call this the 7:0 diet – a little extreme maybe, but if the theory of ketosis is sound, I figured it wouldn’t be anything more than a psychological challenge. If you want more detail on this, I got the idea from the following video Eating Once a Day.

Important to note I placed no restrictions on what I ate (or drank) in these two hours. I didn’t cap calories or consciously cut out any food groups.  I even allowed alcohol because I know if I had banned it, I would have fallen at the first hurdle. What is interesting, is what happened:

My Diary

Day 1 – not surprisingly this was easy, after all I had a corpulent body full of yesterday’s 3SMAD excess calories to keep me going. I didn’t want any alcohol and just ate a moderate plate of veggie grub.

Day 2- felt good, loved waking up and not having to worry about food all day, a feeling that persisted throughout the week. Interestingly I only had (only wanted, only needed) a light meal, although it was accompanied by a glass of wine. Day 2 was a Friday, and had I banned alcohol in this experiment, I may have felt resentful and rebellious. However, without any alcohol ban I was free to enjoy a glass, and because I felt good about the fasting, I wasn’t tempted to drink any more, ending the evening feeling unusually virtuous and sated.

Day 3 – felt good, went for a long walk during the day (4 miles), had a veg stir-fry for dinner plus two glasses of wine (it was Saturday night). I didn’t really enjoy the second glass of wine – one would have been enough but in a perverse mindfcuked reasoning kind of way that only I could muster, I convinced myself I should have a second glass to prove to myself I wasn’t restricting alcohol.

Day 4 – hard, very hard. Perhaps it was the wine? Who knows, but I had a persistent headache all day, felt tired and sluggish despite sleeping well and craved food throughout, occasionally staring balefully at the cheddar cheese in the fridge. I only just made it through to tea-time, but interestingly didn’t have (or want) any alcohol. Veg Thai green curry (no noodles).

Day 5 – much better. I was busy which helps a lot and I just had a light veg dinner. No alcohol. I definitely felt lighter and I’m definitely sleeping better and eating much healthier food through choice/desire. No cravings whatsoever for junk food (odd for me) and most surprisingly of all, despite not restricting alcohol, I’ve only had 3 glasses of wine in the first 5 days, including a weekend, and anyone that knows me will know that’s quite uncharacteristic.

Day 6 – all went well, seems to get easier. Had a light veg based dinner, no alcohol. Sleep continues to improve. Once again my focus and concentration was immense, far better than usual and my work productivity has undoubtedly increased. Managed a 2.5 mile run.

Day 7 – felt harder. Perhaps knowing this was the last day made me psychologically weak, like I sensed the finish line. But that makes it sounds like it’s been a hard slog and it really hasn’t. I’m only stopping today because I set myself a 7-day target for this experiment and the more I look at it, the more I believe I could continue further. I survived and rounded off the 7-day fast with an oven baked jacket potato and cheese like mama used to make. Enjoyed a 3-mile walk.

In summary

I would say on average I have consumed well under 1,000 calories a day, probably closer to 600-700, and interestingly have eaten smaller portions and higher quality evening meals than I ever did on 3SMAD. I also rarely craved junk food and 3 glasses of wine was well under par for me for a weekly total. I also ate total vegetarian – due in part to a bountiful supply of garden produce, but certainly not a conscious action at the outset of the experiment, perhaps this was pure coincidence.

Of course 600-700 calories a day isn’t sustainable long term, but I guess that’s where ketosis comes in, at least in the short term. I have AMPLE fat stores to draw upon, as do most of us fortunate enough to live in the western world, and so such a challenge over a relatively short period of time is only ever a psychological one I think. This was never going to be, nor ever planned to be, sustainable, I just wanted to check if it was doable, and it was. It’s foolish to draw any firm conclusions, but it has proved to me you don’t have to eat at set meal-times, it’s OK to skip a meal (or two), and in fact it might even be good for you to listen to your body rather than the chimes of the clock.

I have no idea what it has done for (or to) my health, all I can say is I felt better afterwards than I did at the beginning. I felt like I had more energy and my brain was definitely sharper – I could concentrate for longer and didn’t feel sleepy during the day. For the record I lost 3.4kg (7.5lbs) in weight. No doubt much of that will go back on when I return to normal eating, although, and here’s the crux, I’m not entirely sure I will return to my normal 3SMAD eating, but perhaps somewhere in between.

I’m certain many of you will think this was a silly and dangerous thing to have done. All I can say is I survived and as described above I felt better than I did previously. Best of all I believe I now have a much better perspective and handle on my, admittedly rather quirky relationship with food (and maybe also drink).

 

 

Our friend Dave

Dave and I grew up together, we were part of a group that hung around in playground huddles – me (Rammo), Westy, Youngy, Hossy and Sykesy (Dave).  We went through infants, junior school  and then secondary school, and from the ages of around 6 to about 16 we were a fairly tight knit team.

I remember fondly going to Dave’s house one schoolday lunchtime when we were around 14, to listen to his Monty Python records – yes we were the kind of brats on the school bus that would recite the Election Night Special sketch with Tarquin Ptang Ptang Ole Biscuit Barrel. We also had a collective love for rock music and attended many concerts together in our teenage years at glamorous venues such as Sheffield City Hall and Leeds Queens Hall to see bands like Rainbow, Whitesnake, The Scorpions, UFO. We all wore wrangler jackets, we all had band names embroidered on the back. But Dave preferred a leather jacket.

We borrowed albums off each other, we talked about girls, we drank, and we did all the things lads do growing up together, but after O-levels things started to change.  Some of us went on to further education, some of us didn’t, some moved away and went to university, some stayed at home, getting jobs locally. Dave, despite having the intelligence to continue his education as far as he wanted, for he was as bright as any of us, stayed in/around Barnsley.

Fast forward to 2015, we were all 50, and we had a school reunion borne out of Facebook. Many of us hadn’t met for around 35 years and it was scary as shit, but it was also a beautiful moment, not least because most of us had appalling memories of our secondary school days at Kendray Oaks. It was a rough school by anyone’s standards, there was horrendous bullying and violent beatings dotted through our school years and many of us carried that baggage with us well into adulthood.

We all had people we were scared of, our own personal enemies, and there were always groups, ‘us’ and ‘them’ factions throughout. Most of us lads got into scrapes at some point or other, and many of the girls too. All of us in fact, except Dave. Dave was neither Ardsley or Kendray, Dave was Dave. At the reunion we all regaled tales of who we liked and didn’t like, and to a man (and woman) I think I’m right in saying everybody liked Dave.

Some people had forgotten me, some remembered me fondly, some remembered me then ignored me and this was probably true for everyone one on reunion night. Except Dave. Everyone knew Dave and everyone liked Dave.  I honestly can’t remember him ever having a bad word for anyone, or ever getting into any kind of scrape.  Whilst we hid in our cliques, Dave could walk freely between Ardsley and Kendray, knowing he had friends in both camps.  Dave was our bridge, he was our rock, he was what held us together 35 years on.

Despite some fairly serious health issues Dave was pivotal in organising the reunion. He helped sort the venue, he sorted the DJ equipment, he was also the DJ and he was the liaison between Kendray and Ardsley. I remember helping him set up the sound system for the big evening – he was clearly in a lot of pain but never grumbled. He could have easily let others organise things and everyone would have understood perfectly, but he didn’t. When it came to saying a few words, Dave threw the microphone to me, although I helped behind the scenes, Dave was the catalyst that brought us all together, but in true Dave style, he didn’t want any of the glory or praise.

In the photo below, that’s Dave and me at Scout Dyke circa 1981. I’m the gobby twat singing lead vocals and hogging the limelight, Dave is the cool dude playing bass with a snooker cue at the side. That was Dave – always there, always contributing quietly but essentially, keeping the music playing, but never, ever seeking the limelight for himself.

me-and-dave

We all knew he was ill. I called in to see him on a trip up north earlier this year and he was clearly struggling but managed to wear his trademark smile and brave face. He told me he was fine, we chatted, reminisced, hugged briefly and I went on my way.

Dave passed away two days ago, aged just 51. He lived a private life, often alone, yet he had a warmth and compassion that connected and united many of us. It’s ironic that someone could live alone yet touch so many others at the same time.  Without Dave we had no reunion, without Dave I may never have become such a Monty Python fan, but I have so much more to thank him for – his warmth, his humour, his humility, his friendship.

I know I speak on behalf of everyone in the class of ’81 when I say this – we miss you Dave, you were all our best friend and no-one’s enemy and we miss you terribly.

Take care big man.

From all the class of ’81
xx

 

Foie-Gras footballers …

Granted this is the Daily Mail, but strip away their usual level of sinister spin and crass veneer and you can still see the very real problem facing English football today.

Raheem Sterling on return from Euro 2016

And I don’t mean to single out Raheem Sterling. I’m sure he’s just one example of the elite clique that represent English football at international level, but this story neatly sums up the current problem we seem to be facing in the English game.

The mere fact that these players earn £180,000 a week says everything you need to know. No human being on earth needs that kind of money. I’m pleased Raheem spent some of it on a home for his mum, a fine gesture, but to video it, to upload onto snapchat (if that’s what he did), and to glory in it just a day or two after returning from the Euros, says to me that he is totally disconnected from the grass roots game of football in this country.

Whilst the rest of us English are still smarting from the disappointing, rather pathetic and lacklustre exit from the Euros, leaving us watching balefully (pun intended) at other teams like Wales and Iceland playing with a genuine passion, a demonstrable camaraderie and togetherness from shirts 1 to 11, Raheem’s making this little video vignette of vulgarity and uploading it to social media.

Such behaviour suggests to me the current crop don’t really give a shit. £180,000 a week, why should they care about anything?  The life of these Premier League rockstars is now so far removed from reality it almost feels like fiction. And the Premier League is the breeding ground, fuelled by Murdoch’s Sky it has become a Hollywood freak show, a grotesque distortion of the grass roots game of football.

Below that we still have the football league – the Championship and Leagues 1 and 2 – 72 teams, the majority of which still play the game the way the fans want it played. Money talks down here too, and it’s far from perfect, but money talks to a far lesser degree and the product is far more representative of what many of us think of as real football.

As a regular watcher of League 1 football this season, did I ever watch Match of the Day with envy and wish my club were in the top flight? Well, yes I did, but that’s because I want my team to beat other teams week in, week out. I am like every other football fan anywhere in that respect, what I am saying is I don’t want the Premier League in its current form, an institution so distorted by money that it’s ruining our national game.

As far as I am concerned the Sky funded Premier League should be cut free, pushed into the Atlantic and floated off to Hollywood where it belongs. Let me be clear, I don’t want us to lose, nor do I have anything at all against, the current Premier League clubs. There’s just as much tradition, fanaticism and passionate loyalty at Everton, Manchester United and Arsenal as there is at Notts County, Huddersfield and Exeter City. There is no difference in the make up of a Liverpool fan and a Barnsley fan. This isn’t a rant against any clubs, or fans, it’s a rant at the system, one created and fuelled by greed, one that solely exists to line the pockets of the few.

Our national team should be filled with our best players, and our best players should earn a fair wage, but not a grotesque one. Our best players should be as normal as possible but also hard working, hungry whilst hopefully also being delightfully talented. Look again at Wales, at Iceland, look at Leicester City, look at what a club like Barnsley can achieve. What happened in ALL these cases is that a team was built around passion, hard work, teamwork and certainly intelligent and skilled management. Teams that care, comprised of players that care, teams that believe, team that can defeat the odds, teams so passionate they almost burst with pride.

That’s what I want from my England team. The answer most certainly isn’t yet another corporate regime change at the management level. We don’t need a different manager who still conforms to the same FA template as the previous 10 managers, all who similarly failed to breathe life into a disparate collection of overpaid, Premier League celebrities.

What we need is a change in the top league if that’s possible. We need to stop force feeding ever more gold sovereigns down the gullets of our spoilt starlets in an attempt to create an even richer blend of grotesque, Foie Gras football. Or if we must do that, if we can’t stop that happening, round them up and put them in a circus tent and let people watch them on a pay-per-view channel.

I want my England team to be formed of players genuinely proud to wear the shirt, players desperate to win,players that bleed, players that hurt like us whenever they lose, simply because they care. Just like us.

 

 

 

The UK EU referendum debacle …

I don’t consider myself political. I don’t like clubs as I have  blogged before, and no clubs are more abhorrent to me than political parties.  I admire those that proudly wear their politics on their sleeve, but I personally struggle to understand how anyone could ever constrain all their thoughts and beliefs to the inside of a blue or red box of thinking and ideology.

I have beliefs. I believe passionately in the NHS and the welfare state, I want those unable to help themselves to be supported by a caring society, and I support controlled immigration. I also believe in incentivising companies to establish themselves in the UK to bolster our workforce, and I believe in meritocracy. However I know by saying all those things that doesn’t place me in either a blue, yellow or red box, for all parties will claim all these beliefs too.  Even UKIP will claim controlled immigration, whilst Labour will claim to be the party of business and finance and the Tories the protectors (and creators) of the NHS. In summary, everyone is in favour of everything nice and against everything nasty.

And so in an attempt to try and pin ones colours to any mast at election or referendum time, one has to dig deeper into the subtle, twisty-turny definitions and sub-texts, and more often than not you come out of that process more confused than ever before.

And all this is perfectly exemplified by the current EU Referendum here in the UK.

Let me lay out my beliefs. I am a passionate Europhile. My family and I have been immigrants in Germany (’95-’97) and although not the EU, we were also immigrants in USA (’98-’00), so I strongly support immigration too.  Those two family adventures where we lived overseas in other cultures are possibly the richest, fondest and most positive experiences of my life. My wife and I travel to continental Europe whenever time and money permits because we love to eat, drink and walk through the streets of our continental neighbours, absorbing their culture and history and always leaving feeling richer as a result.

Yet I am also deeply, deeply frustrated by the EU. It feels like a victim of its own success. In trying to serve 28 masters it serves none. It feels horrendously complex, probably because it has to be with 28 masters where compromise means no-one gets what they want. And it appears to be so overly bureaucratic as to be almost stagnant. I don’t understand who elects these people, I don’t know who these people are and I couldn’t name any of them either (shame on me). What I do see are largely facile rulings and decisions – who can call their cheese ‘Cheddar’, Cadbury’s chocolate can’t be called chocolate, bananas that are too curved, bread toasters to be banned, children under 8 not allowed to blow up balloons, etc. And then we have the Common Agricultural Policy subsidising farmers to produce goods nobody wants or needs.

And so here I am, I want to be in Europe, I want to be part of Europe, but I am deeply frustrated by the EU. Do we stay and fight for change from within? Haven’t we been trying to do that since the inception of the common market, and if anything things seem to be getting worse? Or do we Brexit and start afresh doing everything ourselves? At least we would then have accountability, we would have decisions made by people we can vote in or out. But what about rulings that don’t respect borders – what about terrorism? air pollution? environmental issues? These issues clearly don’t respect our nationalistic borders, and yet impact us significantly and surely benefit best from common purpose and cross European debate? And if we leave what model should we adopt? The Norwegian model? the Swiss model? Canadian model? No-one seems to know and the Brexit strategy does feel rather uncertain.

And the more one reads, the more confused one gets.  The hyperbole, misdirection and spurious lies from both sides is horrendous and completely unhelpful. Claims that holidays will cost £250 more if we Brexit are nonsense, as are claims from the Brexit side that we will sign trade deals with 28 countries in a matter of months. And everyday the claims and counter claims become ever more insidious and ridiculous. Surely they see this don’t they? So is that their intent? To aim to confuse, to obfuscate the truth through a smokescreen of lies and deception?

Once again I find myself struggling to join any club, staring balefully through the EU debating playground railings, seeing others joyously pinning their rosettes to their EU referendum jackets.

I feel slightly envious, yet the harder I try, the more I listen, the more I read, the more I search and research, the more confused I become.